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The Subaru BRAT is a truck/car/ute/thing that seems like an animal that went extinct in the 1800s; it looks familiar, maybe like something we’ve even seen, but clearly not something that is a part of our world anymore. It is an odd vehicle that, try as we might, we can’t seem to shake from our hearts. Utes are bizarre and almost useless, but also not – a conundrum later revisited by the Japanese brand with the Subaru Baja. However, while the truck/car itself is strange, its name is an oddity all on its own. The weird Subaru truck also has the weirdest name. 

What does the Subaru acronym BRAT stand for?

Side view of a Subaru BRAT for sale that sold on Cars & Bids
Subaru BRAT | Cars & Bids

Despite the funny name, the Subaru BRAT isn’t named after your cousin’s spoiled kid. BRAT is an acronym that stands for Bi-Drive Recreational All-Terrain Transport. Ok, I get that that isn’t overly helpful. What is Bi-Drive? Why is the BRAT named like a military vehicle? The Subaru BRAT is a funny, strange little truck/car/thing, but a deep coolness is hiding underneath the silly name and design. There is an enduring *sense* of practicality that we can’t seem to get away from. We’ve seen funky little pickups like the Subaru Baja. Hell, we are sniffing around the BRAT’s legacy with models like the Hyundai Santa Cruz and – if you squint – the Ford Maverick, too. 

So, what is “Bi-Drive?” This is basically a part-time all-wheel drive system that could be turned on and off with the flick of a switch. Bi-Drive is kind of just ’80s marketing speak, or is it? The needlessly opaque use of terminology like “Bi-Drive” and the strangely military-style acronym might have been more for retcon fun than a super technical name for such a strange, frankly very non-technical car clearly made for non-technical people. *taps nose* I see you, Subaru. 

Is the Subaru BRAT 4-wheel-drive? 

The little Bi-Drive button, turning the AWD system on or off, makes the Subaru BRAT a proper 4×4. So that Bi-Drive talk is used in place of the current terminology for AWD. The thing is, AWD and 4×4 are different. While the differences are subtle, they are noteworthy. The main difference between AWD and 4WD is the ability to select when all four wheels get power instead of the power going to all four wheels all the time.

For those who might be tempted to get grumpy about the freaky little BRAT getting to occupy the same 4×4 space as your Toyota Tacoma TRD PRO, in the 1982 Car and Driver review of the Subaru BRAT, the reviewer explains that due to the fact that, “The BRAT is not, however, a full-­time four-wheel-driver like the AMC Eagle and the Audi Quattro. Since its transaxle contains no center differential, the four-wheel-drive mode is not a good idea for dry pavement (high-traction cornering will cause “windup” stresses in the powertrain).” 

How much horsepower does a 1984 Subaru BRAT have? 

The Subaru BRAT, like many other vehicles, has varied powertrains and outputs over the years. Horsepower figures range from 71-94 hp depending on whether it had a 1.6-liter or 1.8-liter boxer. These boxer motors are paired with either a 4-speed manual box or a 3-speed automatic transmission. There was even a granny gear option that would multiply the transmission ratios by a 1.462 torque-multiplication factor. This basically means a very deep first-gear ratio that allows drivers to crawl along slowly. Some people find this helpful in various off-road applications. 

Are there still BRATs for sale? 

The short answer is yes and no. It’s not easy to find a viable used little Subaru truck on the market these days. Let’s take this in multiple parts. The Subaru BRAT lived from 1978 to 1987. This means no one in the world ever got to drive a brand-new Subaru BRAT to the movies to see Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989). 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t BRATs out there for sale. In fact, the current car market is extremely friendly to weird little eccentrics like the BRAT. Auction sites are making a killing selling fun little forgotten models that hit nostalgic sweet spots. 

As previously mentioned, while there aren’t any new BRATS being made, and the closest second – the Subaru Baja – was discontinued nearly a decade ago, the ute, or as they are more formally known, car/truck/UTV things are slowly making a comeback in the form of the compact pickup trucks like the Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick. The success of these strange little trucks will hopefully push other automakers to reopen the ute door. Hell, I’ll say it. I don’t even care who hears it; I want the BRAT back